When I started writing fiction, and reading about writing fiction, everywhere I turned someone said “you must write every day”. A few outliers recommend writing whenever and as much as works for you, or in short blasts or chunks. Still, the general rule is: set a word count and write every day.
Interestingly, this advice is apparently reserved for fiction authors only. As a working copywriter and journalist for the better part of fifteen years, no one ever told me I needed to write daily to be good at my craft. Granted, most articles and marketing pieces are far, far shorter than a novel, or even a novella. So writing daily may be more about developing a habit of putting words on the page so you actually finish writing a damn book before you die.
Whatever the reason, writing daily does not work for me. I don’t do it. If I’m in the thick of a first draft and the ideas are threatening to spill out and be lost forever if I don’t write them down, I might hit the keyboard for a few hours one day on a weekend. But that’s rare. I’m more likely to jot a few notes in my phone and go back to having fun.
If I write every day I run out of ideas, and eventually the quality and quantity of my writing suffers. If I write too many hours in a day, or too many days in a row, my brain cramps and refuses to go further. Anything I write at that point is crap that’s going to be deleted anyway.
Like any other muscle, I think you need to work your writing brain regularly to keep it strong. But also like any muscle, if you work it too much it gets sore and tired and performance suffers.
I also need a certain amount of mental time and space to write good fiction. More than when I’m writing non-fiction, where the facts are laid out and it’s just a matter of reorganizing and rewriting them to be compelling. With fiction, it all comes out of my head.
Sometimes that means taking time off on weekdays to let my brain figure out what comes next, or resolve a sticky plot issue. Recently I wrote and edited two, twenty-thousand word stories in a few weeks. At that point, my brain was downright crunchy. So, I took a few days away from writing or editing and read three romance novels instead.
Weekends and evening, as a rule, are reserved for time with my hubby. We hit the trails, rivers, or slopes, get together with friends, go dancing, or see a show. It gives my brain a chance to rest, and me a chance to put new experiences in my head. I can’t expect anything new to come out if I don’t ever put anything new in.
The flipside is, if I go more than a week without working on a novel or story, it gets harder to find my groove. It also gets easier to procrastinate and work on anything else. Maybe writing fiction is like sex and exercise, the more you do it, the more you want to do it. And the less you do it the easier it is to blow off.
Regardless (and to paraphrase the hell out of Dr. Suess), I cannot, do not, will not write every day.
What do you think? Is a daily writing practice critical to becoming a published author? Please do leave your thoughts in a comment below.
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